Hanging in Fragile Balance: The Harmony of Beauty and Ornament

One of the most incredible pieces of the XV Century architecture, Ospedale Vault by Filippo Bruneschelli is a specimen of artwork which can challenge Alberti’s theory of the interconnection between beauty and ornament.

Due to its peculiar structure and the specific elements of decor used by the famous architect, the work represents link between the structure and the aesthetic perfection. Every single element of the Ospedale Vault is a piece of evidence to support the theory of the great architect.

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On The Principles of Aesthetic Balance

Looking at the Ospedale Vault, one can understand fully what Alberti meant by saying that beauty is something that cannot be altered. Indeed, casting a single glance is enough to understand that adding or taking away any detail would result in the collapse of the entire building – not literally, of course, but in a more terrible way.

With its every detail an architectural perfection, Ospedale Vault is something that is beyond any possible judgments. Yet there are certain doubts that the beauty of the building exists inseparably linked with ornaments.

Ospedale Vault evokes the general feeling of space, due to its peculiar shape, which adds to the feeling of geometrical structure and creates the impression of incredible accuracy. However, it must be admitted that the feeling of spatiality which emerges at the first sight slowly fades away as the darker framings of the construction become distinct. With help of the white color the architect has achieved the impression of airiness, while the darker settings played the part of the boundaries for the entire construction.

Another important thing about the construction is its aesthetics. If one observes the artwork more closely, one will be able to see that the perfect geometry of the Vault is balanced with the ornaments, yet it seems that the two exist independent of each other. Interrelated, but not intertwined, they supplement each other, but they are not interchangeable. A peculiar detail, it opposes the idea of Alberti, the idea of the ornament as what beauty fully depends on.

What Makes the Incredible Balance: The Elements and the Whole

The distinction between the beauty and the ornament comes immediately after taking a look at the Ospedale Vault. Although the ornaments on the columns of the Vault are a perfect stitch to the entire work, these are no more than the ornaments designed to emphasize the elegance and airiness of the vault; but they cannot embody the airiness and the lightness of the vault. Instead, the shape and the colors are drawn to create the amazing feeling of finesse.

It is evident that the beauty of the Vault, though emphasized with help of the elements of ornament, exists on its own, in the sphere where the pure beauty acquires specific sense and becomes as highly valued as truth.

To prove this concept, it could be a good idea to imagine the Ospedale Vault deprived of its ornamental elements. Imagining the architectural construction without its usual decor, one will soon see that even having no more ornamental elements, the Ospedale Vault remains the same architectural perfection.

It seems that because of the spirituality around the Vault, it cannot be spoiled by anything or anyone; yet there must be a more prosaic explanation of such phenomenon. One of the probable ideas is that Brunelleschi achieved the geometrical perfection in creating this masterpiece. Observing the lines of the Vault, one can notice that they float smooth as a river.

Both the straight outline of the walls and the roof and the curved shapes of the columns follow the specific symmetry, both elegant and strict. Breaking Alberti’s ideas of interdependence between the structure and beauty, the Vault in its perfection offers much food for both the aesthetic feelings and the feeling of symmetry and structure.

Where the Beautiful Borders on the Divine

In contrast to what Alberti Claims, the Renaissance epoch with its pomposity and its excessive luxury suggests a lot of masterpieces filled with aesthetics of their own. Ospedale Vault, one of them, tears the theory into pieces. With help of the amazing proportions and the impeccable shapes, the construction is a perfect artwork which ornaments exist parallel to the aesthetic ideas which it conveys.

Tracing the elements which make the beauty of the Ospedale Vault, one must admit that the perfection of this construction is concealed not in the ornaments, as Alberti thought, but in the shapes and the outlines of the building, that is, in its structure. Meanwhile, the few ornaments added by the architect to the Vault are no more than a part of the decor.

Creating his work almost deprived of any ornaments, Brunelleschi thus proved the theory of Alberti. The artist filled the Vault with the meaning of its own, adding only a few touches to emphasize its perfection.

In this case, the few ornaments play the role of background elements for the entire structure, the niceties with the fleur of the epoch. Yet they can hardly be considered the foundation stones of the beauty and charm of the Vault. Magnificent and impressive, this construction does not need any crutches for its beauty.

Thus, Alberti’s concept of beauty seems rather doubtful. With such evidence of the gap between beauty and ornaments as Ospedale Vault, the vision of the great theorist can be doubted. Not belittling the theory’s merits, the peculiar architecture traits of Ospedale Vault still cast doubt on the theory’s adequacy.


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